21 Easy Ways to Increase Response Rates for Your Online Survey

Posted on February 15, 2020 by

Employee surveys have become more and more popular with companies of all sizes. They are an excellent means of measuring what is going right and what needs to be changed within the organization. It may be difficult, if not impossible to get 100% of your employees to participate in your well-thought-out and professionally crafted survey. Truth be told, you have the power to influence the response rate, but only if you understand where your people are coming from.

As a leader, you understand the importance of the survey, it brings you closer to understanding what makes your people tick, what motivates them and what keeps them coming to work. However, individual employees may feel as though their feedback is of no significance, that they don’t have the time or, in some cases, they fear retaliation for negative responses or they simply don’t even realize the survey is taking place. So what can you do to improve your employee engagement survey response rates?

Here are 21 effective tips to improving your employee engagement survey response rates:

  1. Plan Ahead and Get Started Early – Don’t wait until Monday morning to start talking about a survey that’s going to take place on Tuesday afternoon. Weeks before the survey, you need to start planning for, preparing and promoting the survey. Waiting until the last minute is not going to inspire a high level of participation. You prepare the annual budget well in advance and this is not too much different than that. Give your people a heads up as soon as the idea is discussed so that you can get their input from the beginning and assure their participation later on.
  2. Explain the Purpose and Benefits of the Survey – Let your employees know what your true purpose for doing the survey is. Don’t overload them with managerial mumbo jumbo; they know that increasing profits and expanding the company are important to management. Employee engagement surveys aren’t about that, at least not directly, so you have to make it about them instead. Without a compelling reason, most employees are going to opt out of the survey so come up with a list of 5, 10 or more benefits that are irresistible. They can be anything; increased morale, more educational opportunities, whatever resonates with the culture of the company, but most importantly with the staff.
  3. Get Senior Management on Board – Senior management leads the company and sets the standards that employees are expected to follow. When these key individuals endorse, encourage and promote employee engagement surveys, it’s more likely that employees will follow suit. Prior to implementing the survey, a letter, email or company memo from the CEO, GM or president of the company that clearly communicates the importance of the survey should be sent out. It should detail first, why the survey is being conducted and secondly what will be done with the information that’s been obtained.
  4. Get Middle Management Involved – Middle management has the most contact with employees and they should be communicating the importance of participation the same as senior management, but they also need to be motivated. Make it a point to clarify the purpose of the survey and what it means to them to have a high level of participation in their department or region.  You could stir up a little friendly internal competition between teams and offer a reward such as a gift card for dinner at a local restaurant to the manager who has the highest level of participation.
  5. Start Talking About the Survey – A note from the top brass or manager may not be enough to motivate employees to participate in your survey, so get creative and start communicating. Don’t be shy; talk about the survey at every opportunity including casual conversations in the elevator, hallway and break room. Also make it a point to discuss the survey in company wide and department meetings where you have a captive audience. Another tactic to consider is creating a video speech that details the survey and encourages participation.
  6. Do Some Creative Advertising – Enlist the help of employees from different departments to help come up with posters that are unique to each department. Everyone in the organization needs to know that there is an employee survey available and that their participation is important. Use colorful graphics, bold text and catchy phrases to grab attention and put them everywhere there’s open space. Use elevators, restrooms, break rooms and hallways; anyplace that gets foot traffic is a good spot. Sending out special “invitations” to each employee in the form of a card, email or memo that tells them where, when and why the survey is taking place is another idea to try.
  7. Be Specific About How the Data Will Be Used – Asking questions is one thing, what you do with the answers is quite another. Vague answers are a sure-fire way to demotivate employees. Why should they take the survey if they don’t know what the results are going to be used for? Give details about what the intentions are for the information you gather. If it will be shared with employees once it’s compiled, let them know. If it’s going to be used solely for management, let them know that as well.
  8. Ease Their Minds About Anonymity – Some of your people may have the fear that if they say anything negative, they’ll lose their job or suffer some other pain. It’s human nature to avoid pain so you’ve really got to assure them that this will not be the case. On the other side of the coin, some might think that by giving more positive answers they may be rewarded. In every communication, whether written or verbal, assure staff that their survey will be 100% anonymous. It’s extremely important to communicate that there will be no repercussions no matter what they say – good or bad.
  9. Make it Easy to Participate – Scheduling an engagement survey isn’t easy and there will always be some employees that are on vacation, in meetings or just plain swamped with the work they have to complete. There is never a time that is perfect for every person within the organization. What to do? Instead of forcing everyone to participate Thursday between 8am and 1pm, for example, make the survey available all week long. Give people the opportunity to take the 15 or 20 minutes needed to complete the survey during their regular work day.
  10. Provide Private Areas for the Survey – Some of your employees may be worried that if they complete the survey at their desk that someone else may see what they are saying. One way to overcome this is to set up computer systems that are solely for the survey in a conference room, open office or training room. Make sure that no one is wandering around the area and that there is complete and total privacy for the survey taker through the entire process.
  11. Understand Motivational Factors – It might seem obvious, but ask what would motivate your people to participate in the survey. Don’t stop there, though, also find out what makes them not want to participate. Remember that just a little bit of empathy can go a long way when you’re trying to get someone to comply with your wishes. Talk to employees on an individual or group level and listen to what they have to say. Some employees truly don’t feel as though their input will make a difference. Others have very little positive input and feel it’s best to keep it to themselves rather than sharing. Regardless of the reason, it’s your job to wade through their responses, offer solutions and encourage their participation.
  12. Point out Past Survey Results and Actions – Look to last year’s engagement survey for the “proof of the pudding” in terms of managerial response. If something significant changed as a direct result of the input received from employees such as more training opportunities or flex-time scheduling then brag a little about it. Show them with hard, cold facts that not only were their concerns heard, but acted on in an appropriate and timely manner. Obviously if this is the first engagement survey your company has instituted, there will be no previous results, however, you can point to meetings in which concerns were expressed and later addressed by management.
  13. Set a Good Example – Good leaders lead by example, not by making demands. You can’t really expect your employees to take the survey if you haven’t done so yourself. Make it a point to be one of the first to complete it and encourage your team to follow suit. It may help to tell them how fast and easy it was to do, or how fun it was, or what a nice break from daily tasks it was. Use whatever you can to show them you’re on board and they should be too.
  14. Set a Participation Goal – People need to have goals, something to aspire to and a direction to move in. If you’ve got a 75 or 80% response rate in mind for the entire organization, you have to voice it. You might not get the level that you are hoping for, but you will most likely get closer if your people have a set goal in mind. They’ll be more likely to encourage co-workers to participate as well; when it comes right down to it reaching a goal is a point of pride, no matter what it is.
  15. Post Participation Results as You Go – At the end of each day, send out an email that details the percentage of employees that have participated and how far away from the goal you are. When employees see that their colleagues have taken part, they’ll be more motivated to take action as well. Get your most influential and well-respected employees on board by inviting them to take the survey first. They have the power to motivate just due to the fact that they are looked up to. When these key people participate, others will likely follow suit.
  16. Offer Incentives for Participation – While it may be difficult or impossible to reward each and every participant, group rewards are a great motivator. Consider offering fun incentives such as a pizza and soda lunch, an afternoon movie in the conference room, or some other group activity for the top participating department. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but it should suit the culture of the company and it should be something your employees will enjoy. Don’t have any ideas of your own? Ask your people what they would want… takes the guesswork out and increases the odds that they’ll strive to achieve the goal.
  17. Publish the Results of the Survey – Once everyone has had their say and the engagement survey is over, there’s still work to do. Whether you’re dealing with an outside survey company or your survey is internal, compiling the results is the next step. But even that isn’t the end… you have to share the results in order for it to mean anything. Upper management, middle management, as well as employees need to hear what came of all those questions and answers. Was some new revelation brought to light? Is there some statistic that would make an impact? Share it right away and ask for more feedback.
  18. Thank Everyone for Participating – It may seem simple, but saying thank-you goes a long way. In much the same way that you announced the survey, send out emails, postcards or handwritten notes. Take the time to make appreciation posters to put up around the office. Most importantly, personally thank each and every person. You don’t know who participated and who didn’t so assume they all did. Whatever you do, just show how much you appreciate them and their opinions. They’ll be much more likely to participate in the future and it’ll show them that you truly do notice.
  19. Follow Through – Take the results of the survey, find out what needs to be addressed and take action immediately on things that you can. Some things will take longer to implement but keep everyone posted as to what’s going on, when things will happen and how it will affect them. The reason for the survey in the first place was to get to the heart of what motivates and engages your people. If you don’t act on the information they provide, nothing will change and they will be less likely to participate in future surveys.
  20.  Keep Communication Lines Open – As you interpret survey data in the coming weeks and months, keep your staff and managers in the loop. It’s easy to get wrapped up and forget about this all-important step, but don’t let yourself fall into a lackadaisical frame of mind. Keep the survey in the forefront by including steps that are being taken in monthly newsletters and quarterly meetings. It reinforces the importance of the survey and how seriously you take it.

The bottom line is that you have the ability to influence the overall response rates for your survey. Take the time to understand what motivates your people and you’ll have a better chance of reaching the participation goals you’ve set forth. Give your people the time, privacy and encouragement to follow through on their own and above all – show them that you appreciate them each and every day.

Bonus Tip: #21

Plan Ahead for the Next Survey – One-time surveys are fine if you’re just doing a spot check on employee engagement, but it shouldn’t stop there. You visit the doctor for an annual check-up and you need to visit your employee engagement strategies on an annual basis as well. Plan for it well in advance, talk to your managers and employees along the way and take note of things that are going well and things that may need to change.

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